Dáil Éireann - Volume 574 - 13 November, 2003

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  35. Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the deployment of Irish troops in Liberia. [26781/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): On 24 September 2003, the Government authorised, subject to Dáil approval, the dispatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. The Dáil gave its approval yesterday to the deployment when my colleague, the Minister for Defence, moved the necessary enabling resolution in the House. I refer the House to Minister Smith's comprehensive statement in this connection.

  UNMIL was established under UN Security Council Resolution 1509 of 19 September 2003. The resolution authorised the deployment, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, of up to 15,000 [785]military personnel, together with up to 250 military observers, 1,115 civilian police officers and a civilian component, for a period of 12 months.

  UNMIL's mandate is extremely comprehensive. It includes monitoring implementation of the ceasefire and the comprehensive peace agreement concluded on 18 August 2003 between the government and rebel forces. It also includes assisting the disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and repatriation, DDRR, of all armed parties, providing security at key government installations and for vital infrastructure, and protecting UN staff, facilities and civilians. UNMIL will assist in the provision of humanitarian assistance and the promotion of human rights. Other tasks include assisting the transitional government in developing a strategy to consolidate governmental institutions with a view to holding free and fair elections by October 2005.

  From the outset of the planning of this mission, the United Nations Secretariat, at its most senior levels, expressed to the Government a strong interest in Ireland's participation. This reflects the esteem in which Ireland's Permanent Defence Force is held for their peacekeeping skills and experience. Intensive consultations took place with the UN Secretariat on the nature of an Irish contribution, should a decision be made to participate.

  Ireland's participation in UNMIL is at the request of the United Nations Secretary General and on foot of UN Security Council Resolution 1509. The broad scope of UNMIL's mandate corresponds to Ireland's long-standing position that international efforts to restore peace should take full account of humanitarian, social, economic and political as well as security factors.

  The proposed Irish contingent will comprise a motorised infantry battalion of some 430 personnel, and a small number of additional personnel who will be deployed at force headquarters and as military observers. It is also proposed to deploy personnel from the Army ranger wing, for a three month period, at the request of the UN. The final composition of a Defence Force contingent to UNMIL is currently being determined following a recent detailed reconnaissance by a Defence Forces team to the mission area, which took place from 16 to 21 October 2003 and which considered all aspects of the mission, including health requirements.

  UNMIL will operate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means that the force will have authorisation to take all necessary measures to fulfil its mandate. It is envisaged that the Irish contingent will operate as the force commander's rapid reaction reserve. The role of the Irish personnel will be the provision of an immediate response capability which could deploy without delay in the mission area in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

  Deployment to UNMIL is expected to take place later this month and in December. It will [786]be the largest deployment of Irish troops on a UN mission since UNIFIL. Initial deployment would be for one year, with a possible extension thereafter, subject to renewal of the UN mandate and a satisfactory review of the mission. The Irish contingent is expected to be fully operational in theatre by mid-December 2003. At the request of the UN, a small number of Irish personnel were deployed to the force headquarters last month.

  The Government is of the view that the deployment of UNMIL is critically important in supporting the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement and for the political and economic recovery of Liberia. Furthermore, it will contribute to the consolidation of peace and security in the region. Liberia has been the source of much of the conflict that has taken place in what has been, in recent years, a most violent and troubled part of west Africa. The deployment of UNMIL throughout Liberia will therefore complement the effectiveness of the UN and international peacekeeping missions that already exist in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire.

  The Government will continue to work to sustain the support of the international community for peace-building and economic and social development in Liberia and neighbouring countries so that the benefits conferred by the deployment of UNMIL are sustained.